"March Madness" may be a term coined for the NCAA Tournament, but the NFL will begin its own version of March Madness on Tuesday when free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET.
There have been a few major moves already this offseason, but everything will be ramped up a notch when free agency starts. A number of big names are scheduled to hit the open market and several teams have money to spend, which could lead to a fast and furious beginning to free agency. Teams and agents have been able to discuss prospective free agents, meaning the groundwork in many cases has already been laid.
The top free agents won't necessarily sign deals once the clock strikes 4 p.m. ET, but many will schedule visits adding substance and spectacle to the rumor mill. Many players will go through a recruitment process similar to their college experience. Teams will wine and dine them, trying to impress them into canceling their other stops. Teams have been known to pull out all of the stops, including flying players to the team facility in a seaplane.
While the wooing process can officially and legally begin, deals will also be struck. The top free agents will often make a visit or two, but a number of deals could happen shortly after the start of the free agency period. The current crop of free agents may lack marquee names, but more than a few players are expected to get big contracts. Wide receiver Mike Wallace is one of the notable offensive free agents, and he could land the biggest deal of all with the Miami Dolphins expected to make a strong push.
On the defensive side, defensive ends Cliff Avril and Paul Kruger as well as safety Dashon Goldson are among the top players available. All three are hitting free agency at or in the midst of their primes, which should lead to big paydays. Avril and Kruger should both land big deals as teams consistently overpay for pass rushers. Cornerbacks also tend to get overpaid on the free agent market, which could lead to big contracts for Aqib Talib, Sean Smith and others.
Bargains are rare in the early days of free agency as teams often overpay out of desperation or a desire to keep players from visiting other teams. A lot of big-money deals and high average annual salaries will be thrown around but, as is always the case in the NFL, the guaranteed money matters the most. Long-term deals with high average annual salaries can often be broken down into short-term, even one-year contracts, based on the guaranteed money.
Although a number of free agent acquisitions will be billed as the missing piece, or a prized addition, the luster often wears off quickly. Eric Wright signed a five-year $37.5 million deal as one of Tampa Bay's big free agent acquistions last season and now the Buccaneers are likely to release Wright. The Browns cut defensive end Frostee Rucker a season after signing him to a five-year, $20 million deal.
While big deals will begin to roll in on Tuesday, some of the biggest deals of the offseason didn't wait for the start of free agency. Two major trades were completed Monday, including Percy Harvin being traded from Minnesota to Seattle. The Seahawks gave up a first-round and seventh-round pick this year as well as a third-round selection next year to acquire the dynamic Harvin. The move, which could go down as one of the biggest of the offseason, also benefited the Vikings who were able to gain value out of less than ideal situation.
Harvin wasn't the only notable wide receiver to be traded on Monday as the Ravens traded Anquan Boldin to San Francisco. The 49ers acquired Boldin for a sixth-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Boldin's $6 million salary proved to be too much for the Ravens while San Francisco bolstered its receiving corps behind Michael Crabtree.
The offseason lull is officially over. Free agency is here.